At its core, humor relies on the element of surprise. When we encounter something unexpected or incongruous, it can trigger a humorous response. This violation of expectations can take many forms, from a clever play on words to a physical pratfall.

However, for the violation of expectations to be humorous, it must also be benign. If the violation is too severe or threatening, it can provoke anxiety, fear, or anger instead of laughter. For example, a pratfall that results in serious injury is unlikely to be funny, while a harmless slip on a banana peel is a classic comedy trope.

The benign violation theory of humor also helps to explain why humor varies so widely across cultures and individuals. What one person or culture considers a benign violation may be seen as offensive or threatening by another. This is why jokes that rely on stereotypes or sensitive topics can be so divisive - they may be seen as benign by some, but as harmful violations by others.

Laughter helps bond people together while satirical humor can challenge social norms and power structures.